By Thomas Becker
Filip Rydstrom continued his torrid scoring pace to begin 2020 with his second two-goal output in three games, as the UPEI Panthers took care of home ice with a 4-3 win over the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus.
The third-year centre added an assist and finished with a team-high three points, while rookie forward Kyle Maksimovich also recorded three with a goal and two assists. Drake Pilon scored his first AUS goal in the win, while Kameron Kielly notched two assists.
Since the turn of the New Year, Rydstrom has been unstoppable, leading his team to a 2-1-0 record behind four goals and three assists.
"He's our engine," said Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson. "He brings a lot of energy, he's a big body, he's a presence on the ice and right now, he's playing very confidently."
The Christmas break gave the team some much-needed time to refuel and get healthy and the positive results reflect that. Rydstrom is just one of several players who've been in and out of the lineup since the start of the season and he's hoping with some health and consistency that the team can start climbing the standings.
"We want to be a hard team to play against that shows up every night, finishes every check and breaks teams down," said the Subway Player of the Game. "I think the last three games have shown that we're getting better."
It didn't take very long for Rydstrom to get going in a rare Tuesday night affair, as he gathered a Kielly rebound from the slot and buried it past Étienne Montpetit at 6:47. The Panthers (8-9-3) carried the play for most of the first where they outshot their opponent 16-8.
The home team was at it again just 36 seconds into the middle period. Montpetit made back-to-back athletic saves on shots by Owen Headrick and Rydstrom, but there was nothing he could do after surrendering the second rebound, as Maksimovich roofed it in the open cage to extend the lead 2-0.
Moncton (9-7-5) came back four and half minutes later, when captain Vincent Deslauriers came down the right side and beat goaltender Simon Hofley with a perfectly placed wrist shot in the top corner. Hofley was solid throughout the night, turning aside 27 shots for his eighth win of the campaign. His counterpart, meanwhile, was credited with 29 saves.
Pilon restored the two-goal advantage for UPEI at 12:22, when Jesse Sutton found him at the side of the net where he tucked away a quick shot.
The Panthers took the 3-1 lead late into the third period, where Rydstrom added to it. Just as they entered the attacking zone, Maksimovich chipped a pass to an open Rydstrom, who waited out the goaltender and deposited the wrist shot.
After the game, Rydstrom was quick to acknowledge linemates Kielly and Maksimovich for setting up his scoring opportunities.
"I give them a lot of credit, they're great hockey players," he said. "They make it real easy for me. I just have to keep the stick on the ice and good things happen."
With time running out and a large deficit in front of them, Moncton refused to go down without a fight and found some life with less than three minutes remaining. While on the man-advantage, Vincent Lanoue fired a shot off Hofley that found a perfectly placed Alexandre Jacob in front where he put away the rebound.
And they weren't done there. With six seconds remaining, Olivier Desjardins' shot from the point was tipped in front by Robbie Graham for the late power play marker, but that's as close as they'd get, as UPEI held on for the 4-3 win.
The Panthers are hoping their strong play travels with them to Fredericton where they'll take on the UNB Reds for a Jan. 10 battle.
"We have to continue to get more confident and play with a lot of energy and keep pushing forward," MacPherson said.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan